NEW YORK -- Derrick Rose dressed quietly in front of his locker stall in the bowels of Madison Square Garden late Sunday afternoon. He scrolled through messages on his cell phone before finally starting to put on his clothes. Kyle Korver sat on the other side of the room in disbelief. He stared off into space. A few moments later, Joakim Noah sat up against the wall in his locker stall and looked up toward a teammate.
"I'm [upset]," he said.
That summed up the feeling in the Chicago Bulls' locker room after a 100-99 heartbreaking overtime loss to the New York Knicks. Rose, Korver, Noah, they all knew they could have played a lot better and that's what made this particular defeat so difficult to swallow.
"We had to make a lot of mistakes there to lose that game, and we did," Korver said. "We did. We made a lot of mistakes. We gave them certain shots, we missed some free throws, I missed a 3. We had a lot of opportunities to put the game away and each one of them went their way. We got to learn from it."
It's rare to see words like that after a team comes back from a 21-point deficit, but it was apropos on this day. After getting completely outworked for most of the first half, the Bulls clawed their way back and managed to establish a 10-point lead with 3:45 left to play in fourth quarter. That's when the Bulls are supposed to be at their best, but, this time, that's when things completely fell apart. The Bulls couldn't find any kind of rhythm late and didn't score another point in regulation. Rose, who was playing in his first game in nearly a month because of a groin injury, and Luol Deng each missed two free throws and mentally the Bulls never quite recovered.
"We beat ourselves," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Sure, Carmelo Anthony was dominant at times offensively and had to hit two huge three-pointers (one near the end of regulation, and one near the end of overtime) to pry the game away from the Bulls, but Thibodeau's point to his players was that it never should have been that close. If they hadn't fallen in such a huge hole early and then mentally collapsed down the stretch, it never would have been that close.
"Free throws, turnovers, that's the reason why we lost this game," Rose said. "Where I had a lot of turnovers just getting back into rhythm. It was just one of them games ... missed [those] free throws and hopefully next time if I get the opportunity I'm going to knock them down."
As usual, Rose wanted to take some blame for the loss, but that's selling the rest of the team short. After all, Deng missed the free throws before Rose. Noah played well for only a short stretch in overtime. As a group, the Bulls turned the ball over 19 times.
The fact that the Bulls were able to come back in this one wasn't the surprise in this game, the fact that they couldn't close was more surprising.
"It was tough because we felt like we had the game," Deng said. "Missed big free throws and gave away the game."
As down as the Bulls were, and as frustrated as Thibodeau was, there was no one in the cramped locker room who thought the sky was falling. They expect to play better. It's a credit to Thibodeau and his system that the Bulls fought back in this game instead of folding up their tent like a majority of other teams in the league would have done. Thibodeau will have his team watching copious amounts of tape in order to cure what ails them.
Still, the Bulls know they let a golden opportunity get away on Sunday. They could have taken another step toward locking down the No. 1 seed in the East and they could have pushed the Knicks a little closer to the brink in the fight for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But that wasn't meant to be -- and now the Bulls' players understand that they gave a little more confidence to a team they may very well see in the playoffs a few weeks from now.
"It's a tough loss," Korver said. "There's a good chance we're going to play this team in the first round, and you don't want to give them confidence, you don't want to give them any kind of an edge of anything. With that being said, we wish we would have finished this game out better but I think there is a lot to learn from it and we understand we've had guys out and we're kind of getting back in a groove. But at the same time we need to win."